Book Bans: The Conservative War On Education

Far-right groups and lawmakers are banning books featuring perspectives of marginalized groups, creating a dangerous education gap.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Iris Lin

Over the past few years, school districts in 32 states across the U.S. have been banning books with increased rapidity. Over 2,500 books were banned from school curriculums during the 2021-22 school year. Forty-one percent of these books include LGBTQ+ characters. The people behind these bannings are often conservative parents, such as in Moms For Liberty, who go from school board to school board attempting to ban stories and perspectives of minority groups. They often claim that these books contain “sexual content” or “offensive language.”

One of the books recently banned by a school board in Tennessee is Maus, a graphic novel based on an interview with the author’s father, a Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivor. The school board banned the book because it included swear words like “bitch” and depicted a half-naked woman. They also claimed it was unhealthy for young children to be exposed to books featuring violence and murder. However, this book was written to depict the horrific crimes committed during the Holocaust, not to mute them or paint a false picture. As a Jewish individual with family members who experienced the Holocaust, the banning infuriates me. Schools should not eliminate the teaching of disturbing history because it is essential to educate the ignorant and shine a light on real, tragic events people can learn from.

Another book that is vital to students’ education is The Hate U Give, a novel by Angie Thomas. It tells the story of a girl named Starr Carter who speaks out against police brutality after her childhood best friend Khalil is unnecessarily shot by a white police officer. This book is extremely relevant to real-life situations. Since 2015, 5.9 out of every million black people were shot by police, more than twice as many per million compared to any other demographic. The Hate U Give teaches important lessons about activism, speaking out, and the horrifying but real topic of police brutality. However, it was banned in Katy, Texas, for “inappropriate language.”

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969 and written by Maya Angelou, has been banned or challenged 39 times since 1983. The book is an autobiographical work that describes the racism, sexism, and sexual assault that Angelou faced. It educates people about living through trauma and difficulties as a child and has received many awards. Despite all of these valuable lessons, it has been commonly banned for explicit language and its depictions of sexual abuse.

These weak reasons are feeble attempts to cover up the real motives behind banning books: many school district boards, conservative groups, and Republican lawmakers, such as Ron DeSantis, want to avoid teaching the topics of race, gender, inequality, and historical events based on discrimination. DeSantis went so far as to call it “inappropriate” and “not what we want to be injecting in our school system” during a CBS interview, effectively shrouding these topics behind exaggerations. This behavior is cyclical: it starts with schools exposing students to a warped perspective on discrimination and minorities. Students will believe and promote lies about these topics and advocate for banning books in their children’s schools later on.

With the information that these banned books provide, readers can take in and discuss the knowledge, stories, and experiences of different groups of people. Marginalized groups may be empowered by having their own stories portrayed to readers and the general public. This can be important for the development of critical thinking and empathy. On the other hand, a single story is a specific idea or belief promoted by someone, without any other sources portraying other points of view. Single stories are dangerous because they can enforce biased beliefs, which create assumptions and prejudices.

The banning of books may not seem to be a major issue facing New York City, as the majority of these bans occur in conservative midwestern and southern states, with the most occurring in Texas. But this denial and rejection of the beliefs and stories of marginalized groups affects the entirety of the United States. As the knowledge and empathy gaps in students widen as a result of book bans, a specific ultra-conservative social and political ideology is created.

The groups behind book bans often argue that the messages the books convey, such as the ideas of gender fluidity and sexual orientation, are toxic or unethical. But it is important for all students to learn about these topics because these ideas help children discover their own identity, separate from the one parents try to force on them. Children cannot be closely watched and shadowed by their parents as adults, so it is important for them to discover who they are and how to accept different communities.

Conservative groups also argue that violence featured in some books may trigger or traumatize their children. However, it is vital for students to learn about all history, no matter how violent or unfortunate it was. Learning about violent history can raise awareness about the people affected and teach students to learn from what happened so that dangerous ideas do not repeat themselves. This is far more important than preventing your child from being saddened by violence.

As students in New York City, we must take action against the banning of books. Students should go out of their way to find and read banned books, whether through the school library, public libraries, or a local bookstore. In the classroom, students must learn about the important perspectives and issues that these books reflect.

Supporters of book bans believe they are “saving the children,” but in reality, they are neglecting their children’s education. We must put an end to the discriminatory and detrimental practice of banning books.